Saturday, July 4, 2015

STEM in the Middle

Excited to share about an article just published in Desert Ridge Lifestyles:

STEM in the Middle
Explorer Middle School and its diverse STEM offerings

Contributed by Janice Mak

STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, emphasizes the interdisciplinary approach to teaching students about these areas that is critical to society both now and in the future.  Explorer Middle School is unique in its approach to meeting the educational needs in this area through its pioneering approach and reputation as a school leading the way in technology.  From its diverse elective course offerings to its extracurricular STEM club, it is a unique place for middle school students to explore in a hands-on, minds-on way areas that interest them.


In its signature Project Lead the Way program, Explorer Middle School students learn about engineering firsthand by designing and testing windmills, robots and more.  Offered at both the introductory and advanced levels, students have the opportunity to develop their ability to design and prototype using Computer Aided-Design (CAD).

In Computer Applications, students create unique and personalized digital creations using Google Apps for Education and other web-based productivity tools.  The coding class has App Inventor and website-making as just a few of the exciting options.

Tech Lab is an elective focused on all things STEM.  Students are immersed in a project-based learning environment where they explore and learn about topics such as aeronautics, forensic science, computer science, 3D printing, and robotics.  

Meeting twice a month, Explorer’s STEM Club offers students the opportunity to tinker, make and code using Scratch, VEX robotics, and Arduino.  They also have access to supplies and tools to create Rube Goldberg machines and other innovations.  Through grants from Science Foundation Arizona, Arizona State University’s STEAM Machines Club, APS, SRP, and Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, students have access to a myriad of STEM supplies and equipment.

Chief Science Officer

Explorer Middle School is one of more than 50 middle and high schools to pilot the Chief Science Officers (CSO) initiative.  Charlie Keenen, a rising 8th grader who was student body vice-president in 2014-15 will be the CSO for the coming school year.  “I look forward to representing my school and learning more about science and technology,” says Charlie.  In this role, he will work on raising campus-wide engagement in STEM by serving as the “voice” for  Explorer.  He will work on identifying science opportunities such as speakers, field trips, science nights and ensure that these opportunities reflect the interests of his peers. He will be the contact and streamline the ability for STEM-based organizations throughout the state to meaningfully connect with Explorer. In addition, as CSO, Charlie will participate as a member of a state-wide “cabinet” of other CSOs to engage in Arizona’s conversation about STEM, education and the workforce. To prepare for his coming responsibilities, Charlie will be attending a summer leadership institute, fall and summer cabinet meetings and have on-site mentorship during the academic year, all supported by the AZ SciTech Festival.  

Competitions and more

Explorer students represented the school and district at several STEM competitions this year.   A team created an app concept and video as part of an application in the Verizon App Challenge.  Other students competed at the Honeywell Aerospace Challenge and the VEX IQ robotics regional competitions.  More than 20 students also participated in Arizona State University’s Mars Student Imaging Program where they conducted scientific research and spent two days with a planetary geologist analyzing data and presenting their findings.  Explorer students have also participated in district pilot initiatives where they have taken MOOCs (online courses) from higher education institutions such as Stanford University.

Engage, Empower, Experience, Explore

Explorer’s motto is engage, empower, experience, and explore.  Its diverse curricular program and additional offerings provide students with the opportunity to engage in STEM content and skills, empower them to be STEM-literate citizens, provide them with experiences and avenues through which they can explore their STEM interests.

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